Delivered by Ranjana Padhi, Writer and Activist, Author of the book ‘Those who did not die’
The Gender Studies Group, Delhi University conducted an interactive session on ‘Agrarian Crisis in Punjab and its impact on women’ on 20th September,2013 in Ramjas College. Our speaker Ranjana Padhi is an Activist and writer, Author of the recently released book ‘Those who did not die’ .Ranjana Padhi started by giving a basic outline of her research. Then Vikramaditya Sahai, member of the Gender Studies Group, Delhi University read narratives from Ranjana Padhi’s book. He read the experiences of family members who have survived the peasant suicides. Thereafter, Ranjana tried to explain what these narratives could actually mean and the kinds of questions they raised. She pointed towards certain questions they raised for us, especially for Marxist feminism. For example, she began with explaining how in spite of caste privilege, Jat Sikh women actually are more malnourished than dalit women, because dalit women are more willing to pick up saag on their way , while upper caste women won’t do so because of honour. Within the family as well, while there is history of older women going to the fields,while they refused their daughters and daughters-in-laws to do the same. In fact Ranjana explained how they went to fields to substitute the income of the male members to buy machines, which actually ended up putting them out of the fields. Through this Ranjana tried to explain the elasticity of capitalism that it can get women out of household and send them back in as it desires. Moving from the idea of the substitution of the male income by women, led us towards the discussion of masculinities, of men being the bread winners of the families, in a political economy that works against one. Ranjana pointed out further, that it’s not merely about not finding employment but burdens can also come in ways of selling ancestral land to repay a loan. Men would not even share with their family such a decision due to shame. In such a milieu when the men commit suicide and leave women behind, the women do not even know that their husbands/fathers had taken loans. In such a situation women are suddenly forced to make difficult decisions, about land, machines dowry,etc . A position they had never been in before, but are now flummoxed by . While this may seem extraordinary, in the ordinary day to day as well women find it hard to articulate themselves, for example, questions around sexual harassment within family.
Ranjana posed some very difficult questions to Marxist feminism itself, for example, the divide between labor and family, between the public and the private, between production and reproduction. She asks, as a Marxist Feminist why we have accepted a certain sexual division of labor, for example, in debates around global warming we worry how women will get water instead of questioning the logic behind why only women fetch for water. Similarly, her research poses a question that has troubled feminism for very long, that is, in spite of it being demanding , oppressive , harassing , why are persons so attached to the idea of a heteronormative family.